TREATING DOG AGGRESSION
But success depends entirely on these factors:
1. The right methods used (more on that below).
2. The history of the dog (who intense the aggression is, how long the aggression has gone on for, etc.).
3. Committing to make change happen.
Creating a Dog Aggression Treatment Plan
Creating a plan is not as difficult as it may seem when you have the right information. Unfortunately some techniques, or performing techniques incorrectly can either slow down progress or in some cases make your dog worse. Behavior modification is a very importan technique but if it is not carried out correctly it can cause problems (see the blog post The importance of getting your dog’s attention at the earliest stage of aggressive arousal for one example). Much of the time this is because you are getting either second hand information or incomplete information.
A normal dog might be able to cope with methods that rely on scare tactics, pain, discomfort or intimidation but they can cause additional problems for a dog who has shown any kind of aggressive behavior (see more on 5 treatment methods to avoid). When that happens many people don’t know where to turn. Some consider euthanasia, other rehoming.
That’s why it is critical to find the right treatment plan for your dog right away; one that is designed to actually improve the life of your dog and keep those around safe. With a good treatment plan that is based on science (and not charisma and story telling), and getting support either from a support-group if your problem is not too serious or from a good professional who can help, it is usually possible to make real change in dog aggression whether your dog is aggressive towards people or other dogs.
Treatment and management: 3 main areas for changing aggression in dogs:
1. Aggressive dog behavior modification
Through aggressive dog behavior modification, (learn more about what is behaviour modification) you can change how your dog responds to events. This is the primary place people start out and most behavior can not change without it.
A retraining, or relearning program such as the one outlined in The Dog Aggression System Every Dog Owner Needs e-book, offers a systematic approach to changing your dog’s behavior. And while you may consult a trainer or behaviorist you are the one who will carry out the program with your dog.
Recommendations should include some easy to implement passive practices to teach your dog to sit, and look and wait for cues on what he should be doing next, often called Foundation or Deference Training as well as Relaxation Training which helps you and your dog prepare for more targeted and direct behavior modification.
Targeted Behavior Modification for dogs is built on these foundation exercises to enable you to then work with your dog to reduce his or her anxiety that leads to the aggression. This work which is so important and actually makes behavior modification much easier is often skipped or rushed through simply because people don’t understand exactly why it is so important. In addition there are other exercises that you can practice with your dog that will help them develop better self-control over their emotions. This too, makes behavior modification much easier.
While targeted behavior modification is one of the most important parts of any program, it is often where people fail because people have not been taught:
- How to plan a complete treatment program to ensure you dog is set up for success
- Clear warning signs that your dog is communicating to you that tells you how slow or fast to proceed
- What are the many other things you can change to make things much easier
2. The environment the dog lives in
Changing things in your dog’s life is often on the most over-looked addition for improving issues with an aggressive dog. This might include a change in diet, or where you walk your dog for exercise or how you greet guests in the home. It may even include changing what your dog plays with. Most importantly, it involves preventing your dog to further behave aggressively, as each time your dog has the opportunity to behave aggressively, his brain becomes more and more effective at prompting those reactions. Learn more in The Dog Aggression System Every Dog Owner Needs about the role of the brain in dog aggression as well as simple changes you can make in your dog’s life that can help.
3. Medication for aggressive dogs
There are few medicines designed specifically for treating dog aggression. But there are many medicines that help normalize a dog’s chemistry and are used to help treat the underlying causes of aggression. These should be prescribed by a vet. However, medications do not work alone and there must be a behavior modification plan in place in order to see real change. As much as other factors impact aggression, dogs learn to be anxious in some situations and aggression becomes a fall back way to cope.
The dogs that need medication for aggression need it in order for behavior modification to be effective. These dogs are actually different and are simply far too anxious to be able to learn properly. Medications might help these aggressive dogs to think more normally and can help them learn better. It can also help some dogs be less impulsive and allows a moment before acting aggressively to assess the situation or to gain self-control. Without the medication they are more likely to resort to aggression that much more quickly. Learn more about medications used for treating dog aggression.
Behavior clinics such as University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (VHUP) have a very high success rate with 90% of aggressive patients improve to the extent that the owners are happy to keep them. (We do not have any verified data on behaviorists or trainers success rates) The challenge is that there can be a long waiting list to get an appointment with these clinics. But there are things you can do now.
Other articles you might be interested in
 Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals, Karen L. Overall, M.A., V.M.D., Ph.D. Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Behavior, Department of Clinical Studies, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Pennsylvania, Mosby, Inc. 1997